Soldering Iron | Original Writings by Catherine Shumaker Brinson vol. 2

Today as I was working on my mother’s house (which is still chock-full of genealogy, her writing, and many assorted heirloom-type items) I found this story that she wrote – “Soldering Iron.”

After reading it, I searched for my grandfather’s (David Jesse Shumaker’s) soldering iron. It’s at least a foot long, and fairly heavy. I know I’ve seen it, probably a few years ago, but don’t know whether it’s still in the house or not. I’m absolutely positively certain that I didn’t throw it away, and was broken-hearted that I couldn’t find it. The tool and this story need to stay together. Hopefully one of my brothers has it, and will send me a good-quality photo that I can post at the top of this page. The photo above is *not* my grandfather’s tool. It’s a photo of a similar one from Etsy.

I remember using the soldering iron with my brothers when we were kids. We would heat it in the flame of my mother’s gas range until it was red-hot, and then solder together whatever it was that we were playing around with at the moment. When we used it, Mother would always say, “that’s my dad’s soldering iron”, but never told us this story.

That said, here is the story of the soldering iron written by my mother, Catherine Shumaker Brinson. Even if you’re not related to my Shumaker side, this story gives an interesting vignette of life around 1905.


Soldering Iron

My father, David Jesse Shumaker, was a man of many talents. He came from a family and a time when it was a necessity to be able to do many things and do them well. His father not only was a brick mason, but he made his own bricks. He rigged a water well drilling contraption taking power from his Model T Ford. He built at least a couple of houses and had a vaudeville act which included his oldest son, my father.

But this account was to be about the soldering iron. When my father was about 10 years old his father gave him a blow torch, a large heavy soldering iron, some solder, and other smaller items. He then sent his son to call on houses asking if they needed any pots mended. Those were not “throw-away” days such as we now live in. If you had a cooking pot that developed a hole you saved it until you found someone to fix it – if you could not do it yourself. Even when I was a child cooking pots were repaired. “Patches” could be purchased in stores which were screwed over and under the hole. But the patches were not yet invented in 1905.

David would go from door to door repairing cooking pots and pans, charging a small fee which he gave to his father to help support the family, which by then had grown to the parents and 3 children. It wasn’t like going from house to house in our towns. This was in a rural area of Florida and he might carry the blow torch, the heavy soldering iron, and the other small items for miles to find only a few houses. But that was the way life was then – you got work where you could find it, and were glad to get it.

But that was then, and I started out to tell my story of the soldering iron.

We had a cat which the children liked to play with by rolling or tossing ball shaped objects for it to chase and bat around. One of the children got some copper wire (it was called “telephone wire” which is probably not even made anymore.) They tried making a ball with a “jingle bell” in it but could not manage a way to keep it together. I knew my father had many electric soldering irons so the next time I was in Vicksburg I asked him if he had a soldering iron the children could use to make toys for the kitten. He just turned and walked off. That was like him. He heard the request and without saying a word went about doing what he was going to do.

I heard him moving things around and in a few minutes he returned to the living room where Mother and I were and handed me this monstrous, heavy, ancient soldering iron and some solder. “Just heat it on the eye of the stove. Remember where you got it,” he said as he walked out of the room.

My children enjoyed making copper toys for the cat using that heavy soldering iron. But like other things, that got old and they lost their interest as there were many other things for children to do. A few months – at least – went by and then one day we were going to Vicksburg so I took the soldering iron to return to Dad. I gladly said to him that the children (and I) had enjoyed using it but that I was returning it like he said for me to do.

He looked at me and said, “What did I tell you?”

I was taken aback and replied, “You told me ‘Remember where you got it’.”

“That is right.”

For a long moment I just stood there a little dumbfounded. “Does that mean that I can have it?”

“That’s what I said.”

I thanked him profusely, and marveled that he had given ME, and not one of my brothers, one of his treasured tools.

I have MY treasured soldering iron on a shelf and I take it down occasionally just to hold and admire this tool that once had belonged to my grandfather, (and maybe his father) and then to my father now to me and one day to one of my children. Which one I do not know. I do not know which one will treasure it the most and continue to care for it. It is a substantial item and could last for at least another hundred years and more.

Catherine Shumaker Brinson
February 21, 2012


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